Something slightly odd is happening in Spain. And when I say Spain, perhaps I really mean Morocco and the USA. Because it seems that is where La Liga and Super Copa games are being played these days. To hell with tradition, says Javier Tebas. Just show that man the money. Please. Someone. Ah, there we are.
It’s a strange world for sure. In the 2028-29 La Liga season I fully expect that Barça vs. Madrid will be played on some kind of Chinese satellite orbiting the earth. Each team led by their respective captains – a half-robot Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s downloaded consciousness. What a game that’ll be.
Until then though, and what with all the strange goings on, a little bit of continuity is probably more important than ever. And that, dear friends, is why we present to you our comforting, annual La Liga News UK Writers’ Preview. This is where we wow you with our incredible knowledge of the Spanish league and make incredibly insightful predictions.
Take, for example, a couple of mine from last season’s preview:
On Celta Vigo.. “I actually have a good feeling about Unzué and wouldn’t be surprised to see them back in Europe at the end of the season.”
And On Real Madrid.. “Madrid can’t win the Champions League three times in a row, can they?”
Anyway, onwards and upwards, to the 2018-2019 season. And where better to start than with our predicted champions.
It seems that at the La Liga News UK office we’re seeing some parallels with the 2013-2014 season. Either that or several of us have gone slightly mad (you can judge at the end of the season), as out of the six writers to have contributed to this preview, half of us see Atlético Madrid finishing top of the pile. Just in case you want to prepare your banter to hurl at us in May, that would be yours truly, Sam Leveridge, and Kristofer McCormack who have gone with Diego Simeone’s boys.
There is something particularly attractive about Atleti this season, though. You have to admit it.
While Barça and Madrid both appear to be in some state of transition, Atleti just keep being Atleti. Perfecting their Atletiness, you might say. Except this season with more attacking options than they’ve probably ever had before. They should definitely challenge.
And what about Barça and Madrid?
Well, the other three writers – Adam Storer, Campbell Finlayson and Ernesto Hernandez – have all gone for Barça to win the title again. And why not, you could sensibly argue. Already the best, most consistent team in La Liga over the last few seasons, they’ve made some good signings and Messi, as captain, looks about as focused as he ever has. His speech at the Joan Gamper game against Boca was telling. He and the team, he said, would do everything in their power to bring the Champions League back to Camp Nou. There was a sense that the double last year was almost a disappointment, which shows you the stratospheric level that Barça and Madrid operate.
As for Real Madrid, well none of us have tipped them for the title. So they might be worth a quick bet.
Seriously though, the suspicion with Madrid is that is that their start will be important. If they can hit the ground running, take easily to Lopetegui’s style, and if Gareth Bale can become the new Cristiano Ronaldo (or at least as close as possible), they shouldn’t be written off. We’re talking of course about the three-time European champions here.
What about the teams that we think will be relegated this season? Well I’m sorry Huesca fans, but we’re pretty unanimous on this one. Your boys aren’t going to be sticking around for long.
And the other newly promoted teams? Both Rayo and Valladolid feature in our predictions, but perhaps not as much as you’d expect. Levante and Leganés are more widely tipped for the drop.
The standout tip here though has to be from Kristofer McCormack, who has confidently predicted that Espanyol will finish bottom of the pile come May. One suspects he won’t be welcomed with open arms in the bars of Cornellà de Llobregat.
Kristofer clearly wasn’t put off by my outlandish suggestion that Celta would be the surprise package last season either, as he’s chosen them for the very same category this season. For his sake and my long-suffering friend Angel from Vigo, I hope he’s right.
I’ve gone for Athletic for this category, partly because I just don’t think it can get much worse for them than it did last season, and partly because I think Berizzo is a good coach who was unlucky at Sevilla. Sam fancies their Basque neighbours Real Sociedad to shock us, and there are also mentions for Real Betis and Villarreal.
When we asked our writers to tell us what they’d like to see this season, none of them, somewhat surprisingly, mentioned that they’d like to see Valencia play Real Sociedad in Dallas in March. So what are they looking forward to?
Let’s take a look at some direct quotes:
Tom Cross – “For Athletic to be a bit less boring and get back into the top half, and for Betis 2017-2018 to not have been a flash in the pan.”
Sam Leveridge – “Betis breaking into the top four playing great football and Atletico to show that they aren’t one season wonders with the strongest squad they’ve had since 2013/14.”
Kristofer McCormack – “A tight title race would be nice after last season. Echoing what I said last season, I hope VAR puts an end to Barcelona and Real Madrid fans’ constant bickering about who gets more “favours” from the referee, though I feel that might be a pipe dream.”
Campbell Finlayson – “The title and relegation places to go down to the wire. All were decided pretty quickly last season. I’d also like Huesca to become the next Eibar, but I can’t see it.”
Ernesto Hernandez – “I wouldn’t mind a tight title race. I’d also like to see Real Betis improve upon last season and for Valencia to consolidate under Marcelino.”
Let’s have a look at some other predictions. The Pichichi, for example. With no CR7 around, there’s no surprises that Lionel Messi gets a lot of mentions. Well, almost all of the mentions actually. I’ve decided to be a bit different though and have made the somewhat bold prediction that there’ll be a new top goalscorer this season – Antoine Griezmann.
The breakout star? Well Ernesto and Campbell are in agreement that it will be Arthur at Barcelona. They like what they’ve seen of him and think that Barça might finally have found a midfield man worthy of taking on the mantle of Xavi and Iniesta. Time will tell. Other players mentioned include Fran Beltran, Thomas Partey and Marco Asensio.
The first manager sacked gets a range of names. Kristofer’s anti-Espanyol agenda continues with him tipping Rubi to be the first to go, while Mauricio Pellegrino and Paco Lopez also get mentions.
Barcelona dominate our Copa Del Rey winners predictions, as well they might. It’s basically their trophy now, isn’t it? Would it not be easier just to award it to them at the beginning of the season? Kristofer and Campbell, however, being as they are the kind of men who laugh in the face of history, have decided to be a bit different and have tipped Real Madrid and Atleti respectively.
The transfer window has yet to shut in Spain of course, but what do we make of the transfers made so far? Which has been the best signing? Sam and I are in agreement that Rodri at Atleti could work out very nicely, while there are also mentions for William Carvalho, Arthur, and Takashi Inui.
And finally, we at La Liga News UK like to look beyond Spanish shores sometimes. In that sense we’re a little like Javier Tebas, just with a bit less money. We’ve set our gaze on the European competitions to see how we think the Spanish teams will get on this season.
So, what do we think? Well, strangely – especially given that the stats from the last 10 years suggest that winning the two European competitions every season is just what the Spanish teams do – there aren’t too many shouts for Real, Barça or Atleti conquering Europe this season. Similarly the teams in the Europa League aren’t tipped to dominate.
However, as with so many predictions, you often spot the famous four words that can prevent you looking silly in nine months’ time:
Never. Write. Them. Off.
And who, dear reader, do you think these four words relate to? Yes, that’s right.
Madrid are going to win it again, aren’t they?